Q&A with Nashville-based blues/rock singer Chris BadNews Barnes, a dynamic, high-energy performer with sense of humor

"My hope for the future is that the Blues gets more attention than it does, even the Grammy Award for Blues is not considered primetime worthy; to me that’s unfair. My fear is programming is the demise of American Blues Music."

Chris BadNews Barnes: Aristophanes Blues

Recent Nashville transplant Chris BadNews Barnes is a humorist, both by design and circumstance, and an astonishingly accomplished music artist. This dynamic, high-energy performer has spent the better part of his life marrying his love of blues and humor, developing a truly unique sound. In 2017 Barnes - under the moniker CHRIS ‘BADNEWS’ BARNES and backed by musicians featured on “Saturday Night Live” and “Late Night with Conan O'Brien” -released his full-length 14 track album, Hokum Blues. Two years later in 2019, Barnes collaborated with Grammy winning producer Tony Braunagel on his album LIVE which landed at #8 on the Billboard charts & #5 on Amazon. In 2021, Barnes released BadNews Rising produced by Nashville’s Tom Hambridge. Gulf Coast Records will released Nashville-based blues/rock singer Chris BadNews Barnes his label debut album, "BadNews Travels Fast" on the April 26th.

(Chris BadNews Barnes / Photo by Black Moon Media)

BadNews Travels Fast was produced by multi-Grammy winner Tom Hambridge, who also played drums on the sessions and co-wrote all of the songs on the new disc with Barnes. Joining in the recording fun was an “A-List” of Nashville musicians, along with such special guests as singers Jimmy Hall and Sugaray Rayford and guitarist Walter Trout. “I’m honored to have found a home for my original songs with fellow artists who are also true friends,” stated Chris BadNews Barnes. “Gulf Coast has built a Castle for today’s cutting-edge Blues Artist and I’m grateful to be inside The Gates. Mike Zito and Gulf Coast… I Offer You My Sword, Now let’s Go Slay Some Dragons!

Interview by Michael Limnios                           Special Thanks: Mark Pucci Media

How has the Blues and Rock music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I feel the deeper I go into the Blues the deeper, I bear witness to the atrocities and injustice of slavery in this country, and the deeper I go into Rock, I see the power of rebellion.

How do you describe your music philosophy songbook? Where does your creative drive come from? 

Well, my background is in satire. I’m an alumnus of the prestigious Second City Comedy Theatre out of Chicago, Illinois; two alumni of what is referred to as The Oxford of Comedy in Dan Aykroyd and The Late John Belushi, so I am a descendent of this creative drive. I also have found my alignment with the 1920s & 30s Hokum Blues artists, like Tampa Red and Georgia Tom.

What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far? 

I was walking into Terra Blues in Greenwich Village in NYC and the bouncer said everyone wants to hear your “Slow Dance with Joni Mitchell” song; you better play it. When I started seeing audience members singing my lyrics to my songs, that was a game changer; when I introduce a song and the audience gives recognition applause, that really moves me and tells me I’m on the right path. Last year I was booked for The Big Blues Bender and opened for Selwyn Birchwood, Mr. Sipp & Kenny Neal; the auditorium was packed and it was that star is born performance: everything just went right and the audience all came to their feet with a standing ovation and right after that Mike Zito offered me a Gulf Coast recording contract. That was a special performance and a turning point on my journey.                (Chris BadNews Barnes / Photo by Laura Carbone)

"If you want to be a movie star, you go to Hollywood, if you want to be a stage actor, you go to New York City, and if you’re a songwriter you must land in Nashville. The devoted following you speak of in Nashville is devoted to the song, the songwriting, they love it, they appreciate it, they want to hear the journey of the song, how it came about, what inspired it and how it all came together. It’s very rare and quite unique. And as a songwriter you feel like you have found your sanctuary, it’s quite magical."

Currently you’ve one release with Tom Hambridge and Gulf Coast Records. How did that relationship come about? Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album “BadNews Travels Fast”? 

This is the second record I’ve done with Tom. The first, BadNews Rising (nominated for Five Independent Blues Awards) was during covid so that was a lot of zoom conversations and writing back and forth, This album we had more time to collaborate in person and I really wanted a straight ahead contemporary blues sonic. At the same time, Walter Trout reached out to me praising the earlier album, BadNews Rising, and offered his talent on this album. Also Sugaray Rayford and Jimmy Hall have graced this album as well.

I just felt we are a great through line and I went much deeper as a lyricist and story teller, Tom always pushing me to the pain and we got that with “True Blues” with Walter adding a ferocious solo. This song was about the pain of infidelity by my father, and Jimmy Hall plays a haunting harmonica on “A Bluesman Can’t Cry,” about slavery. Ironically, recording artists commonly speak of finding one’s “sound;” Kenny Greenberg was Tom’s choice of guitarist (Kenny Chesney) and Kenny is a master baritone guitarist. I write very theatrically, and when I heard his first and second solos I was like, ‘what the Hell is that sonic’ and Kenny gave me his history with this instrument and Tom and I agreed we had certainly discovered The BadNews’ sound!

Why is it important to we preserve and spread the blues? What is the role of music in today’s society?

Blues to me is about moving through the fire to the cooling waters, its primal life struggle; it exposes the hypocrisy and highlight gratitude of sometimes just breathing, because if one is breathing there is hope. Second City Satire taught us everything that happens is our business every time a new law is instituted it is our job to question and if need be challenge. We cannot be lemmings running off a cliff because that’s where everyone is running; we must challenge, we must exercise the power of our vote and we cannot be silent. Music is Not Silent; Music demands you listen and the words juxtapose to the music can be a very, very powerful way of communicating one’s message.

"Well, my background is in satire. I’m an alumnus of the prestigious Second City Comedy Theatre out of Chicago, Illinois; two alumni of what is referred to as The Oxford of Comedy in Dan Aykroyd and The Late John Belushi, so I am a descendent of this creative drive. I also have found my alignment with the 1920s & 30s Hokum Blues artists, like Tampa Red and Georgia Tom." (Chris Barnes / Photo by Marilyn Stringer)

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?  

The only thing I think that is missing from the past was the amount of time you would let an original concept grow and mature, I think the industry/ studios/ labels, management rushes the creative process a tad. My hope for the future is that the Blues gets more attention than it does, even the Grammy Award for Blues is not considered primetime worthy; to me that’s unfair. My fear is programming is the demise of American Blues Music.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths? 

Pay no mind to those making your journey more difficult. It’s none of your business what anyone thinks of you; you just stay on task. Everything is learned on stage; keep getting up on stage with the goal of getting more honest with each performance. The audience has to believe you and you get more honest with each performance. All that matters is that you’re dedicated to giving the audience your most authentic self; that what they want and that is what they deserve, and that starts with your writing. Your focus has to be on your original work.

Why do you think that Nashville (Music City) music scene continues to generate such a devoted following?

If you want to be a movie star, you go to Hollywood, if you want to be a stage actor, you go to New York City, and if you’re a songwriter you must land in Nashville. The devoted following you speak of in Nashville is devoted to the song, the songwriting, they love it, they appreciate it, they want to hear the journey of the song, how it came about, what inspired it and how it all came together. It’s very rare and quite unique. And as a songwriter you feel like you have found your sanctuary, it’s quite magical.

Chris BadNews Barnes - Home

(Chris BadNews Barnes / Photo by Black Moon Media)

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